Non Physical Suffering : An Under-Resourced and Key Role for Hospice and Palliative Care Social Workers

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The focus on managing both physical and nonphysical pain is central to hospice palliative care. While extensive research has been devoted to addressing physical pain a pertinent question is presented: could additional research into non-physical suffering prove beneficial for this population?

In a study performed by Rattner (2023) and colleagues, 24 interdisciplinary palliative care clinicians from across Canada were followed to discover the challenges and shortcomings in addressing patients’ nonphysical suffering. Many factors such as emotional, psychological, social and spiritual were highlighted and present obstacles faced by both patients and healthcare providers in the hospice and palliative care setting.

This research revealed that an improvement in the critical gap in specialized social work support within these care teams could be beneficial to the patients. The study identified not only a lack of specialised social workers in the field but also a lack of time allocated for them to address nonphysical suffering with patients due to the heavy caseloads and the wide variety of needs.

While presenting some challenges for social workers, this study brings some attention to exploring solutions to ensure that all aspects of patients’ nonphysical needs are met. Possible approaches could include addressing heavy workloads presented by multiple cases and increasing the number of specialised social workers in the field to ensure that each patient gets the chance to address their nonphysical pain needs.

Moreover, the study brings attention to the pressure felt by social works in addressing the nonphysical suffering aspect of care, given the psychological and psychosocial effects. This highlights the pressing need for targeted and specialized support to help support the emotional, psychological, social and spiritual needs of the patients in question.

This research was successful in demonstrating findings beyond only individual patient cases by emphasizing the benefits of possible changes implemented in the palliative care system across Canada. Social workers could offer a crucial position in these interdisciplinary teams and provide some new views and resources. A better understanding of their role could help understand that they are an invaluable assent to holistic patient care, a fact that has often been overshadowed by the challenges they face in delivering this type of care.

The study suggests a shift in the allocation of resources and to present the urgent need to recognize the skills of social workers and prioritize their inclusion in these settings. This is encouraged in the hopes that it will help remove the existing barriers that prevent social workers from fully addressing the intricate dimensions of nonphysical suffering.

Rattner (2023) and colleagues completed this analysis in order to highlight the urgent need for change in the provision of hospice and palliative care in Canada. Social workers with their unique set of skills, can be beneficial when properly integrated in an interdisciplinary team and are equipped with resources to confront the complex nonphysical suffering experienced by patients. This shift not only promises a holistic approach but also acknowledges and values the critical role of social workers to ensure the well-being of the patients when navigating this difficult stage of life.

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Source: Rattner, M., & Cait, C. A. (2023). Nonphysical Suffering: An Under-Resourced and Key Role for Hospice and Palliative Care Social Workers. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life & Palliative Care, 1-18.